Reputation definition: 1. the opinion that people in general have about someone or something, or how much respect or admiration someone or something …
I came across this definition recently and it prompted me to ask industry colleagues for their views on who is impacted, and how to set about managing reputation. Who better to comment than Jenna Keighley, Senior Vice President, Racepoint and Co Chairman PRCA Reputation Group. Here is what she had to say:
“Reputation… It’s a word that for me is fast-reaching similar status to the likes of “innovative” and “leading” when it comes to eliciting an eye-roll of epic proportions. That’s not to say that reputation isn’t important or relevant in today’s world; it’s never been more crucial to the success of a business, brand or individual but trying to nail down exactly what constitutes reputation can feel like trying to pin your shadow to the wall.
The most we can probably agree on is that reputation means different things to different people but if we can also agree that reputation is about perception and for all intents and purposes, perception is reality, the importance of actually deciding what reputation means to you and your company becomes even more urgent!
It can feel like a big, expensive job for a company to really get its arms around its reputation. Larger organisations may appoint a Chief Reputation Officer and use highly-detailed, real-time monitoring of every possible stakeholder group to ensure they are able to identify any reputational threats or opportunities (which can have a direct and measurable impact on the balance sheet but one that often only becomes clear in a crisis). For smaller companies or start-ups, a dedicated CRO isn’t usually an option and neither is the all-singing, all-dancing dashboard of dreams. However, there are plenty of things that are within your reach if you’re working in or advising this type of company (which, by the way, makes up the majority of businesses operating today)…
Who do you really care about?
Here’s a hint – your employees, staff, squad, team, cast members, geniuses or whatever you want to call them should ALWAYS sit at the top of this list. Your internal reputation will always bleed over into the external world so no matter how shiny, innovative, visionary or responsible an image you try to project, it won’t matter if the internal perception runs counter to this – just look at the issues Uber and others in the gig economy have brought down on themselves by not seeming to care about their people.
Who else? Are you looking to convince investors to give you a new round of funding? Perhaps it’s more about attracting top talent or persuading consumers to buy your stuff? Remember that the priority targets may be different at different levels of the organisation and ultimately the reputational buck stops with the CEO so decisions about priority stakeholders and reputation building and protection must sit at the C-Suite and Board levels.
Listen…. And learn….
Research is often seen as a “nice to have” and a budget line that’s easy to scrub when times get tough but would you fly with an airline that assumes its aircraft are in perfect working order but won’t shell out on the maintenance contract? Yes, I’m being a little facetious but my point is that assumptions are dangerous and ignorance is no excuse when your brand is burning…
Starting with staff, technology allows us to take regular pulse checks of sentiment and provides an opportunity for individuals to anonymously report issues or low morale. Creating an open culture where people can feel confident about being honest and challenging senior management about business strategy, practice and conditions is also important in fostering loyalty, positive advocacy and productivity.
With external audiences, there are some relatively easy and low-cost ways to gain a sense of how you’re perceived and identify any hot spots which could develop into a full-blown blazes. Media coverage will often be an easy qualitative way for gaining insight into how your company is perceived and portrayed in the open forum but I also advise all my clients to invest in small, targeted surveys with key stakeholder groups on a 6-monthly cycle to gain more quantitative data that can build into identifiable trends.
Internal CRM, sales and marketing processes also provide rich territories from which to build a clearer reputational picture. By adding some simple questions into the standard contact and relationship-building processes, we can glean greater understanding of what our current partners, clients and prospects think of the business.
There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a company do everything right to understand the lay of the reputational land, yet seeming to do nothing about it. It can make stakeholders who have contributed their feedback feel ignored and can make a leadership team appear arrogant or incapable – further undermining corporate reputation.
At the very least, you will need to address the feedback within your internal and external communications, even if you disagree with it (after all, leadership teams are there to shoulder the responsibility of leadership and not be swayed completely by every voice they hear).
Attack: the best form of defence
Reputation is one of those all-encompassing elements that should not finally pop up on the company radar when something goes horribly wrong. Protecting and enhancing the reputation of an organisation needs to go deep and be woven into the very fabric of company operations, culture and communications and it is the responsibility of every employee to continue that work. By recognising this fundamental truth and using the tools that are available and affordable, any company can proactively manage and build its reputation in a way that feels natural and genuine without needing to break out the fire extinguisher.”
Annabel Dunstan, Founder and CEO, Q&R